Hussein Chalayan: Kate Moss designing a collection is insulting

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Hussein Chalayan's designs are embraced not only by the world of fashion, but by the art establishment too. Last year Andrew Graham-Dixon presented a documentary on his work for BBC2's Culture Show. "His work is as close to contemporary art as you can get," the esteemed critic argued, and anyone who has been privileged to witness the designer's breathtakingly original, high-concept womenswear presentations over the past 15 years will know just why.

For spring/summer 2008, Chalayan was thinking about celebrity. "I feel that there is this sort of neurosis around celebrity and celebrity culture," he says. "I wanted to look at the roots of that. Eventually it goes back to sun worship, it was even pre-pagan. That led to looking at costumes of ritual from different cultures which fell into groups – Jewish culture, Arab culture, ancient Greece..."

To present the collection, Chalayan produced a short film with the photographer Nick Knight, for which he commissioned a soundtrack from Antony Hegarty of the Mercury Prize-winning band Antony and the Johnsons. Made in collaboration with Swarovski, the ubiquitous purveyors of fine crystal to the fashion industry, the film focused on the idea of worship. "I thought about how I could represent worship now," Chalayan continues.

That's where the lasers came in. Chalayan worked with highly skilled technicians to bury them within a crystalline dress. "People thought I projected lasers on to the dress," says Chalayan, clearly appalled by the idea that anyone would think him capable of something so simplistic. "I would never do something as stupid as that."

Rather, he explains, "The lasers point to the crystals first, so that they look as though they're glowing, and then come away from them, creating prisms around the body. I felt that that could almost be like the idea of a person emitting light and then the light coming back to them to create these patterns. That, to me, somehow symbolised the process of performing and being admired back. It was almost as if the bouncing off of the light was the response from the audience, as if there was this interactive moment of worship."

It is a suitably grand viewpoint, as perhaps befits a man who has, in recent seasons, come up with dresses that morphed mechanically from Victorian to flapper to Space Age – an unusually inspired study of nostalgia if ever there was one. Then there was a shift which showed films of underwater life and flowers blossoming as the model wearing it walked.

Although the pieces in question are, clearly, proto-types, Chalayan believes passionately that with time and financial support, he can develop them into clothing that is not only modern, but also hugely ambitious in both form and context. "I like the idea that clothes can contain memories and that one day you could be wearing a jacket and a film of your son, say, could be embedded in the lining and you could watch it," he says, taking the age-old relationship between garment and wearer and projecting it to dizzying new heights.

But, while his collections are imbued with anthro-pological and philosophical ideas, there is a functional side to Chalayan's work, too, as some of the photographs on these pages demonstrate; the designer is keen to stress that his clothes should, above all, be a pleasure to wear.

Throughout the late 1990s, Turkish Cypriot-born Chalayan, today 37, offered the world some of the most beautiful and carefully considered shows the international fashion establishment had ever seen. He has twice been voted British Designer of the Year and, from the moment his 1993 graduation collection was exhibited in its entirety in the windows of Browns, he attracted considerable attention not only in London but, crucially, internationally as well. Indeed, those were the halcyon days when Anna Wintour and her ilk travelled to the British capital just to see both this designer and, of course, his more obviously pyrotechnic contemporary, and fellow St Martins alumni, Alexander McQueen. By the turn of the century, having grown too established for London, Chalayan, who continues to be based in this country, chose to present his collections to Paris alongside the big names, from Comme des Garçons to Martin Margiela, Balenciaga to Dior.

In Paris, for the first five years at least, the focus moved away from the concept and on to the clothes themselves. Chalayan's designs, which are very much associated with the fashion avant-garde, are in fact indebted to the modernist tradition as represented in this country most famously by the late Jean Muir. Though that is not to say he is a minimalist. "Our pattern-cutting process is quite complicated," the designer says. "We never have an easy time with it. We do it until we get it right and sometimes I'm still not happy. I'm still not happy but I've done my best in that situation."

For the current season, Chalayan offers the world everything from a Fortuny-pleat chiffon all-in-one to a chic white shirtwaister with a black jacket attached, and from the finest black silk chiffon wrap fused with a form-fitting (but never overtly sexual) little white dress to a coin-dotted blouse, the graphic print of which is softened by a layer of white organza.

A brilliantly surreal flourish – and one which takes us right back to the concept behind the show – is a pair of oversized dark glasses, that most clichéd of celebrity staples, embedded into a wide-brimmed straw hat.

"Why does Kate Moss have to design a collection?" wonders Chalayan, as one of very few of his kind prepared to go on the record in questioning fashion's relatively new-found penchant for celebrity brands. He is not alone, of course, in believing that such incursions devalue his profession considerably. "It's kind of insulting to us because it's like saying – and I don't mean this personally – 'I can sell more clothes off my name, off my brand, than you can, even though you're a better designer.' If I was a celebrity, I would honestly try to inspire people in another way."

Hussein Chalayan himself is about as inspiring as it is possible to imagine a fashion designer to be. "Everything is so in your face these days and there's no grace left," he says. "The grace of curiosity is lost. I am an idealist, however. I think that if you're not an idealist, you have nothing. You have nothing if you don't dream."

Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
News
Claudia Winkleman and co-host Tess Daly at the Strictly Come Dancing final
people
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
News
Elton John and David Furnish will marry on 21 December 2014
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
News
people
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
News
Stacey Dooley was the only woman to be nominated in last month’s Grierson awards
mediaClare Balding and Davina McCall among those overlooked for Grierson awards
Voices
Joseph Kynaston Reeves arguing with Russell Brand outside the RBS’s London offices on Friday
voicesDJ Taylor: The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a worker's rant to Russell Brand
News
Twitchers see things differently, depending on their gender
scienceNew study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    Austen Lloyd: Senior Private Client Solicitor

    Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY - An outstanding high level opportunity...

    Austen Lloyd: Construction Solicitor - London

    Very Competitive Salary : Austen Lloyd: NICHE CITY FIRM - We are making a disc...

    Austen Lloyd: Construction Solicitor - London

    Very Competitive Salary : Austen Lloyd: NICHE CITY FIRM - We are making a disc...

    Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

    £65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

    Day In a Page

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
    Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

    Marian Keyes

    The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

    Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

    Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
    Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

    Rodgers fights for his reputation

    Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
    Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

    Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

    'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
    Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick